I’d been curious about Amazon’s Kindle since it came out. But it seemed too expensive to justify trying it out… until I saw a tweet about a $50 savings coupon available on the Oprah site last month. Taking a peek in the Amazon store, it looked like there was more and more content available on it… books, magazines, newspapers, even blogs. So I took the plunge. $300 and a couple of weeks later, here’s a perspective on the good, the bad and a fundamental, but hopefully fixable, flaw.
Sampling: Kindle has a sample feature which allows me to read a substantial portion (usually an intro and part of a first chapter) of books prior to purchasing. So if I see, either on the Kindle connection to Amazon’s store (it has a constantly available wireless connection which you can turn on or off), or by investigating Amazon online through the browser, books I think I might want to read, I can send them wirelessly to the Kindle almost instantly. As result, as I find books I might like to read, I can queue samples up for reading later, and then purchase directly from the Kindle if I’m interested.
Enhanced discovery: On a recent visit to my favorite local bookstore, Kepler’s, (where I did purchase a real book for my daugher) I jotted down a number of books I wanted to download and sample. I would have had to stand around in Kepler’s for a couple of evenings (not so bad actually, author speakers almost every evening, and discussion groups as well) to be able to read the same samples. Once on the Kindle I can decide to purchase the book at any time while reading the sample. As result, I ended up purchasing and reading two books I would likely never have read beyond wishfully checking out book covers in the store, or listening to author interviews online: Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, and Anti-Cancer by David Servan-Schreiber.
It could get expensive: Wish there were a “save for later” option as well as a purchase option on the Kindle. Purchasing the books, while less expensive than a paperback or hardback, can get expensive. Just like iTunes, it can rack up a quickly if you have purchasing enabled at the click of a button. Click, 9.99, ka-ching! So please Amazon, I’d like a “remind me later” kind of button at the end of the sample or in the menu.
Free content too: There are apparently LOTS of free books available for Kindle. Many literary classics. And it’s also possible to translate online content into Kindle-friendly formats. I haven’t experimented much with this, but here are a few resources (by no means exhaustive): feedbooks (wow), manybooks, Project Gutenberg.
Clipping and bookmarking: It’s easy to bookmark pages, or highlight sections to clip and move over to my desktop to quote and incorporate into other documents or written materials. This is sort of like highlighting in a traditional book, or putting in post-it notes, but so much easier to follow up on.
Device and interface design: Lots of others have commented on the design fairly completely. The scale is wonderful, the interface is very legible, it’s simplicity and focus on core tasks is admirable (I use it to read, so make that easy, including customizing the type size). The dark flash onscreen at page turn is disconcerting and takes getting used to, the on and off switches on the reverse are odd especially when they’re obscured by the “book cover” holder, I am still trying to figure out some of the buttons on the front, the holder doesn’t quite fit the device, and the experimental functions are clearly still being worked out. (I can’t get Gmail access to work, and do I need another device to be constantly connected to email anyway? Please no. Found moments of peace free from email, IM, SMS and various phones are wonderful.)
Sharing: The missed opportunity with Amazon’s model for content delivery. My entire experience with books has been about sharing since I was two. There’s the public library, where I’ve grazed and been nourished by a shared pool of wonderful picture books as a toddler, stacks of books as an early reader, and later by fiction, research and reference, all available to an entire community. There’s sharing that same resource, as well as a large home library, with my children and family on a continuing basis. There’s lending books to friends, and donating them to shelters or schools or libraries when I’ve finished with them. This approach to books as a shared resource seems fundamental to what books are about for many in our culture, and probably in other countries as well.
Online access to books would ideally increase our opportunities to share and learn from each other, not eclipse them. On a fundamental level, why is the internet and the web of information so valuable? Because it enables us to share and help each other.
Amazon will share content I purchase with me, but not enable me to share it with others, beyond recommending it to others (with starring/rating/reviewing on their site) so that they can possibly purchase it too. With iTunes, if I purchase music, I can generally share it between five authorized computers, as well as rating for the larger audience. That means I can share my music with my family or a few friends. But with the Kindle, I can’t share the books I discover and enjoy with others. Even now, a few books I’d like to purchase, such as Michael Pollan’s works on food and the environment, my daughter also needs for her high school research project. But because my Kindle purchase would only be available on one device (if, for instance, we had two Kindles, a whole other issue) it makes it more economical to purchase the paperback book. There are threads of conversation on LibraryThing making the same point: “I’d lend it to you, but I read it off my Kindle.”
Especially for the potential educational uses of a device like this, the lack of opportunity to share (within limits, Amazon needs to stay afloat) seems like a missed opportunity. So I hope that as Amazon matures the Kindle and the store, they find ways to enable sharing, and by working with authors and publishers, ways to enable people to purchase and package customizable collections of content for such uses as education or research. Think what a gift to the health of kid’s backs that could be… going to school with a single book, rather than the huge backpacks they carry today.